Did 'Star Trek' Give Rise to the Space Shuttle?


NASA's first space shuttle, the test orbiter Enterprise, was named after the fictional starship on "Star Trek" in response to fans staging a write-in campaign. But did the agency's use of the term "space shuttle" also stem from the television series? 

"The Galileo is such an important part of Star Trek and not only to Star Trek, it was important to literally the consciousness of the space program," Alec Peters, a "Star Trek" superfan, recently told SPACE.com. "It really is the precursor to the space shuttle Enterprise."

Peters, with fellow superfan Adam Schneider, is currently restoring "Galileo," the full-size prop shuttlecraft used for filming the original "Star Trek" series in 1966. The science fiction relic is to go on display at Space Center Houston, the visitor center for NASA's Johnson Space Center, later this year.

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"They invented the idea of a shuttlecraft," Schneider said, referring to "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry and his television series' crew. Schneider further told SPACE.com that NASA, busy with planning trips to the moon, was at the time only referring to "tugs" to bring cargo to orbit.

"One year after Galileo aired, suddenly the word became 'shuttle.' The word 'shuttle' was used over and over again," said Schneider.

Peters and Schneider aren't alone in their belief that "Star Trek" gave rise to NASA using the term "space shuttle." The Wikipedia entry for "shuttlecraft" credits "Star Trek" in part for the term entering the vocabulary "as a vehicle for traveling between a planetary surface and space," though it acknowledges that a citation is needed.

"Aerospace engineer Maxwell Hunter and others had been using the term shuttlecraft for several years corresponding to the broadcast dates of Star Trek," the entry states.

According to the crowd-sourced encyclopedia, the head of the NASA Office of Manned Space Flight George Mueller gave a speech in August 1968 that mentioned the need for a "space shuttle."

"This was the earliest known official use of the term," the entry states.

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"The House passed the space budget yesterday ... which includes the vote for the shuttle," Mission Control radioed to astronauts John Young and Charlie Duke as they stood on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 16 mission in April 1972.

"The country needs that shuttle mighty bad. You'll see," replied Young, who nine years later launched again as the commander of the first space shuttle mission.

That day in 1972 was the first time the term "shuttle" was spoken in space, but the word, at least as it applied to a spacecraft, had appeared in aerospace reports and media reports for the better part of a decade, if not more.

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